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January 31, 2003

House Bill 2831: Restores Parents' Due Process Rights During a Child Abuse Investigation

Winsome Sears

One of the most frequent problems facing innocent homeschool families in Virginia is that of social worker investigations based on anonymous tips.

Virginia House Bill 2831 would significantly help protect all homeschoolers in Virginia who could be faced with such an investigation. This bill would protect parents' rights by reinstating the requirement that a complaint of child abuse or neglect be "founded" only if there is clear and convincing evidence. It is scheduled to be heard and voted on in committee on, Tuesday, January 28.

01/08/03: Referred to Health, Welfare and Institutions
01/30/03: Bill Stricken

Requested Action:
None at this time.

HSLDA's Position:

An anonymous complaint from a neighbor or relative with a grudge can subject any innocent home school parent to an investigation. If social services decides the complaint is "founded," the parent's name is placed on a central registry. If the parent ever tries to obtain employment in a job dealing with children, the prospective employer can get access to the registry to see if the parent's name is on it. If it is, it will be the end of that parent's hope for employment in that field.

Furthermore, after a complaint is "founded," social services may demand that the parent and family submit to various forms of intrusive "services." The family may be threatened with court action or loss of custody of their children if they do not submit to these services. It is of the utmost importance, therefore, that a complaint be "founded" only if it is thoroughly justified.

Until 1997, social services was permitted to consider a complaint "founded" only if there was "clear and convincing evidence" that the parent had abused or neglected a child. In that year, however, a regulation was adopted—against overwhelming opposition from citizens—lowering the standard to a mere "preponderance of the evidence."

This is a much lower standard of evidence. Flimsy, marginal, weak, ambiguous, or doubtful cases, which would have been rejected under the "clear and convincing evidence" standard, can readily pass as "founded" under the diluted "preponderance of the evidence" standard.

Furthermore, under the watered-down standard, it is vastly more difficult to reverse an unjust "founded" decision on appeal. The lower standard significantly erodes procedural safeguards that can protect parents from the consequences of bogus anonymous complaints. H.B. 2831 will protect innocent families from the consequences of groundless accusations.

 Other Resources

Bill Text

Bill History

1/27/2003 - Virginia--Action Needed on Bill to Restore Parents' Due Process Rights

1/27/2003 - Virginia--CORRECTION Hearing on House Bill 2831

2/4/2003 - Subject: Virginia--Legislative Update: Bad News, Good News